Gov’t hypes drugged driving threat, calls for zero tolerance DUID laws nationwide

The little red police cars show you the zero-tolerance states. If there is a time next to it, like 24h, that's the mandatory jail time you serve immediately.

Today the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration posted a press release entitled “Drug Use Among Fatally Injured Drivers Increased Over the Last Five Years“.  The release summarizes the full report that examines the the drug test results of drivers who had been killed in automobile crashes.  While the report itself is objective and offers many caveats about reading it as an indictment of drug-using drivers as serious safety risk, the mainstream media hasn’t been as “fair and balanced” and the Drug Czar has jumped on the release to forward his agenda.

The headline from the Associated Press reads: “Gov’t: Drugs were in 1 in 5 drivers killed in 2009“.  The lede for the story is:

About 1 in 5 drivers who were killed last year in car crashes tested positive for drugs, raising concerns about the impact of drugs on auto safety, the government reported Tuesday.

Other outlets like USA Today give it a more chilling headline: “U.S.: Third of tests on motorists killed shows drug use“.  The discrepancy results from the AP considering all drivers who were killed when not every driver killed was drug tested.  The USA Today considers the “tests on motorists killed”, thereby discounting the 37% of killed drivers who were never drug tested.  Whatever – 20% of all drivers or 33% of all drivers tested – they’re dead, they drove, there’s drugs, be afraid!

The AP then follows with a second paragraph that points out the obvious logical fallacy of “correlation = causation” – just because dead drivers had drugs in their system doesn’t mean drugs caused the accident that killed them – something the USA Today article never addresses:

Researchers with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said the new data underscored a growing problem of people driving with drugs in their systems. But they cautioned that it was not clear that drugs caused the crashes and more research was needed to determine how certain drugs can hinder a person’s ability to drive safely.

However, while AP doesn’t get around to distinguishing what exactly “drugs” refers to until paragraph seven, USA Today opens by explaining we’re talking about all drugs, prescription and recreational:

One-third of all the drug tests done on drivers killed in motor vehicle accidents came back positive for drugs ranging from hallucinogens to prescription pain killers last year — a 5 percentage point increase since 2005, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration reported Tuesday.

Nobody recommends driving while impaired by drugs – legal or illegal.  NORML has maintained this as a core Principle of Responsible Use for years.  But there are many legal prescription drugs that will cause impairment that bear the warning “Until you know how you may be affected by this drug, do not drive or operate heavy machinery,” which suggests to me that once you do know how it affects you, it’s your judgment call.  In fact, one of those drugs is prescription dronabinol, the synthetic cannabinoid THC marketed as “Marinol”.

AP’s seventh paragraph also points out that presence of a drug in your system may have no bearing on whether that drug was impairing you in the first place:

The tests took into account both legal and illegal drugs, including heroin, methadone, morphine, cocaine, methamphetamine, marijuana, LSD, prescription drugs and inhalants. The amount of time the drug could linger in the body varied by drug type, the researchers said, so it was unclear when the drivers had used the drugs prior to the fatal crashes.

Cannabis metabolites can be detectable in urine for weeks and THC itself can be detected blood for at least six hours.  Most illegal drugs can be detected for a few days in urine and a few hours in blood.  Prescription drugs are just as varied.  So we’ve got 20% or 33% of killed drivers who had a drug in their system that may or may not have contributed to the crash that killed them and they may or may not have taken that drug before driving.

For comparison’s sake, USA Today links to the stat that drowsiness was a factor in 17% of all fatal crashes.  You just may be more likely to die in a crash caused by lack of a nap as by taking the pill to get a good night’s sleep.  Are you scared yet?  Well, you should be, because the whole point of scaring you about the drugged drivers is the push for nationwide zero-tolerance DUID laws.  Back to the USA Today:

Gil Kerlikowske, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, called the numbers of fatalities involving drugs “alarmingly high,” and called for more states to pass laws making it a crime to have illegal drugs in the body while driving, no matter how much. Seventeen states already have such laws.

The lack of research also presents a problem for lawmakers to develop laws. They can outlaw the use of all illegal drugs while driving, but what about someone who took a prescription sleeping pill a few hours ago?

Since they can outlaw the illegal drugs and there is no political cost in doing so, they will.  These “zero tolerance” laws means if they detect any metabolite of any illegal drug, you are guilty of driving impaired.  Since that joint you smoked could be detectable long after its effects had worn off, you’d be an impaired driver in the eyes of the law even if you were completely sober and unimpaired.  Since marijuana is detectable for much longer periods than most any other drug, legal or illegal, “zero tolerance” laws amount to witch hunts for cannabis consumers behind the wheel.

The irony here is that compared to the threat from drinking drivers, drowsy drivers, texting drivers, and prescription drugged drivers, the threat from drivers using cannabis is negligible.  Just last week we took a look at a study in the Netherlands that showed that experienced users can develop a tolerance to the psychomotor impairing effects of cannabis.  This summer we examined a study performed in Iowa and Connecticut that showed cannabis-using drivers performed as well on a driving simulator after smoking marijuana as they did before smoking marijuana.  (If you’d like the full examination of marijuana and driving, please see Paul Armentano’s impeccable white paper, Cannabis and Driving: A Scientific and Rational Review.)

As for the prescription drugs, there isn’t much political benefit in threatening a majority of your constituents, especially the older ones who do most of the voting, with a DUI charge for the pills the doctor required them to take every day.  Also consider the lobbying money and clout of Big Pharma that won’t look kindly on strict new driving laws that might cause people to use less pills.

No, the per se limit on prescription drugs isn’t coming to your state anytime soon… but maybe the end of driving privileges for cannabis consumers in your state is.  The seventeen states with current per se DUID laws are:

  • Arizona (except for medical marijuana patients), Utah, South Dakota, Illinois, Indiana, Delaware, and Georgia already have these zero tolerance laws for any THC or metabolites of THC – if you toked within the past week, you could already be an impaired driver.
  • Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Rhode Island have zero tolerance for THC in the blood – if you toked before bed you might be an impaired driver in the morning.
  • Nevada and Ohio consider you impaired if they detect 2 nanograms (2 billionths of a gram) of THC per milliliter of blood (2ng/ml) and Pennsylvania raises that limit to 5ng/ml.
  • Virginia, Minnesota, and North Carolina have zero tolerance laws for drugs that do not include cannabis or its metabolites.

Learn what the DUID laws are in your state.

77 thoughts

  1. This just shows nobody is listening. The US is like a modern victorian era. It’s become a complete police state / surveillance society. The people who will get out of this are the people who have the resources and money to pay for a nice lawyer, and the extra cops that will be hired and funded to enforce these laws.

    Slavery is not a dead industry. It’s hidden under political correctness and fear, and it’s alive and kickin today.

  2. Oh great! Make more money off of us any way that you can. I guess US citizens are the ultimate product of ourselves these days. You can keep making money off of us and we will keep paying.

  3. Actually, Minnesota’s drugged driving laws exempt cannabis.

    From the NORML website (

    The law states, “It is a crime for any person to drive, operate, or be in physical control of any motor vehicle … when the person’s body contains any amount of a controlled substance in schedule I or II other than marijuana or tetrahydrocannabinols.” (Minnesota Statutes Annotated Section 169A.20)

    [Russ responds: You’re correct; I had mistakenly included Minnesota in the wrong category. The post and the map have been corrected.]

  4. this is just more scare tactics to scare people about the use of marijuana. the government is getting ridiculous. we have got to continue to flood our government with the true facts and insist that they inform and educate themselves, instead of using the old rhetoric. they need to know that they are not representing their constituents and we are tired of their stupidity and insensitivity and if they don’t that we will invoke our rights as us citizens and rise up against a government that has forgotten that they are there because of the voters and not the lobbyist and special interest groups, which is exactly what has happened, instead of following the will of their constituents who put them in office. i am so enraged when i see stories like the one above which is so biased and not based on the real truth, because the news is suppose to be reported from a neutral and show the true facts and not the opinions of the owners and reporters.

  5. frak gil kerlowski hes a pawn they all are. I know that i could drive a car just fine if I smoke a joint, why don’t people think that smoking a cig and driving is bad. The only wreck i ever got into i was trying to light a cig. the people are slaves and programmed to do what big brother says. wake up you. overgrow the government.

  6. The War on Cannabis is a poverty, suffering, destruction and perdition in the lives of millions. From workplace discrimination, to legal assault, to shredding trust and confidence in relationships, these perditions are commonplace in America. Every 37 seconds someone stumbles because of cannabis prohibition; jail time, fines, loss of personal property, loss of ability to travel, loss of loved ones and relationships, loss of business’, loss of jobs, loss of health; the obstacles and stumblingblocks cast to prevent people from consuming cannabis also prevent consumers from living a normal, healthy, and productive life.

    They destroy any hope of living a normal life. They undermine the foundations of our lives with these laws. They would rather we lay down and die, than let us be free and get out of our lives.
    Write your Rep. and ask them to make the DEA move forward with NORML petitions to reschedule cannabis.

  7. Oh god, what fresh hell is this?

    This is the kind of BS that gets the American public FREAKED OUT. New propaganda, another year of persecution.

  8. The report says “drugs” with no mention of the one drug that actually causes most accidents and fatalities. Were these statistics taken from accidents from just “drugs” or drugs and alcohol? Are there accurate statistics on cannabis only dui? I looked online found alcohol AND drugs but for just cannabis- couldn’t find anything
    Sleepy drivers 17% that’s almost 1 in 5. Let alone texting and so many other things that can lead to accidents. Why always the exaggerations and outright lies? Fair and balanced? I think not.

    [Russ responds: This report specifically excluded alcohol.]

  9. When can we admit that whether we are under a Democrat lead congress, or a Republican lead congress, and whether we have a Democrat president, or a Republican president, the drug war still charges on in full force.


    Time to think outside the box.

  10. The problem is not drugs but impaired responses and threat assessment. What we need is functional impairment testing, not substance testing.

    With modern computing power it should be quite easy to build a device that tests for cognitive impairment and delayed/overcompensation responses to threats. This would be totally impartial and it would not matter if you were just over tired, under the influence of medication or drugs, or just plain psychologically unfit to drive. Drug testing companies won’t like it though…

  11. The FEDERAL OVERLORDS are at it again. When prop 19 went down the tubes in California, it was like a feather in their cap. Don’t worry, that was part of the plan to leave the marijuana issues to the citizens of the states. CONFUSION! CONFUSION! CONFUSION! While the states are fighting on trying to come up with regulations and rules concerning marijuana, THE AUTHORITARIANS and the other evil doers who are still hacking up our constitutional rights have to hide behind DUID LAWS to protect themselves from their own insanity, MARIJUANA PROHIBITION. The power of the people is just a fantasy under STATE AND FEDERAL regulations and laws. I have been on this planet for 57 years and I am still trying to figure out what the hell DEMOCRACY is. It must be the NEW WORLD ORDER and the BARBARIANS who sit in the background with their money and influence protecting their own asses and big corporations against the NEW MARIJUANA INDUSTRY trying to become legal. GREED OVERIDES OUR VALUES AS CITIZENS AND HUMANS AND UNJUST LAWS CONTROL US. REMEMBER, BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING AND STILL SPEWING OUT UNICORNS. THE INQUISITION IS STILL HERE-IT NEVER LEFT. ZERO TOLERANCE FOR THE PROHIBITIONISTS!

  12. I don’t understand how they can detect 2ng isn’t the lowest they can measure from urine 15ng? Or is that just a cap and anything less that’s found doesn’t count?

    [Russ responds: The 2ng/ml is for detecting active THC in the blood, not urine. The 15ng/ml is the lowest detection for metabolites of THC (THC-COOH) to be detected in urine.]

  13. Wow they are starting out early with the BS. Why didn’t they say what the drugs were? They just want to mislead the people into thinking is was marijuana. The sad thing is it works. They have 2yrs of major brainwashing ahead of them. I hate to think of what they will come up with next.

  14. Paul..

    Im kinda surprised that the NORML blog has made no comment/mention regarding the TIME magazine cover story ” The United States of AMERIJUANA”. It was a well written cover story that made some good points while maintaining a neutral stance.

    Check it out …. You CAN NOT miss the cover.

  15. All i can say is HOOKERS 24-7 beer wine whiskey cigarettes poker black jack slots sports betting sin in gross amounts all LEGAL in Nye county nevada and in a lot of other city’s – the hookers Bars all over the usa with big parking lots so people can drink and use there weapons i mean cars after a few sips.but a person cant sit at home in there own home and enjoy a little mellow time its a sad world VOTE the clowns out lets change this crap 2012 find and vote pro mellow

  16. The govt. has gone koo koo for coco puffs,to say if u have smoked the night before, when u drive to work the next morning u are considered drugged driving .WTF Land Of The Flee

  17. They’re trying to lump everything together. It is the only means they have for cannabis-related rhetoric related to driving.

    With our water supplies potentially “polluted” by all sorts of “drug” traces, how could such a study even mean ANYTHING?

    Why are they wasting our taxes on such a meaningless study?

    How many police officers test positive? How about steroid use in the police force?

  18. This will provide more job security for Law Enforcement and keep the prison beds full. Bravo!!! Lets build some more prisons and hire some more cops. If we could only turn more petty crimes into felonies that would help too.

  19. robot cars from google will be available for sale in 10 years. They already exist and work. Robot cars have driven from Italy to China.

    DUID will be a non issue in 10 years. And the distinguishing factors between pot and alcohol are evident.

    Not that anyone is advocating smokeout sessions on the highways, but we lawfully regulate alcohol which causes CNS blackouts and traffic fatalities. none of these facts exist for pot.

  20. I wonder how many of those 1 in 5 drugged drivers were at fault in their fatal crashes? I bet that wasn’t even taken into consideration.

  21. Anyone else think Willie looks a little like Moses? We need a Moses to go before the highest judge(not political) to say Show me a body. When I watch the news it would be nice to hear of biomass and the mexicans building fence to keep us from kidnapping them to work the hemp fields. George Washington said Hemp Plant it everywhere.

  22. This is pure Communism! Law enforcement would fill the jails up and they could build more private prisons and lock up even more Americans. When will the madness stop? The only time a person should get a DUI is when it is obvious they are impaired not just because they have a trace of something in their system. They really want to start a revolutionary war!!! If this is the case the Govt. should provide cheep public trans everywhere so if a person wants to get F*^k#t up they can get around without going to jail. The Federal Govt. SUCKS!!! Communist!!! What happend to free America? This is all about how to make a buck, it’s never about the people. We need to line up all these panty waste polititions in a fireing squad!!!



  24. It seems that VA OH and PA have given us a reasonable response to the claim that there are tests for drunk driving but not for stoned driving. We should celebrate laws like PA’s, and consider adding a similar provision to the next round of propositions.

  25. this is ALL just another scare tactic once again to keep us afraid and believe me it is the farthest from the truth.
    Before i was injured severely i was an over the road truck driver.I have been in all the lower 48 with over a million miles documented on log books with no more than speeding tickets in the lower speed limit states.never an accident always with superior on time delivery.i have driven in the most densely populated cities in this country and have never been a threat to you and yours or my self.what a ruff ruff B.S. statement…when will these people see the light and not the people who are driven to/from work and carrying this country on our stoned/broken backs?

  26. I see these writers and the dea keep putting cannabis in the same league with hard core narcotics,alcohol and even prescription drugs,( which can really mess a persons mind and body up)..Well,since hard core narcotics and alcohol aren’t enough maybe they should look into some of the toxic chemicals in things that are legal,and make those chemicals illegal for human consumption.It gets bad when people have to start considering warning labels on the whole milk there kids are drinking..because the contents may now include steroids or other things the cows were injected with like antibiotics..Even the game we buy in the grocery store gets injections of drugs and are exposed to chemicals .Now all the Genetically modified foods (which are no longer required to be labeled)sterilizing the human race and making fodder for the pharmacy.Take a look at all the chemical abuse while your at it,Theres no telling what it’s doing to the human race.

  27. and to jay says :
    I too am from Illinois and I too am so disappointed in our reps. that took a vote or none at all yesterday the 30th but at the same time I didn’t feel that the PUBLIC was informed enough ahead of time that a vote would take place soon. I mean generally unless your in Chicago or follow NORML or MPP or the other fighters WE DONT REALLY HEAR MUCH ABOUT THE SUBJECTS OR WHEN WE DO ITS ONES SHOW BOATING THE LAWS INFORCEMT OF THE LAW AGAINST IT AND GETTING MORE PLAY/COMMENT TIME THEN THE ONES TRYING TO SHOW/PROVE THE TRUTH
    could it have been they just voted what they wanted and not what there constituents wanted, again…
    ……..ya that’s sounds more like it……
    kinda goes with this article about all the hype before the storm

  28. There is this thing called… Conspiracy(not theory), it means, some seriously rich people (bankers) with lots of power who actually control de US gov, CIA, DEA, ATF, etc. These people know hemp is good for you, but they also know (and here it gets interesting) that hemp can cure many diseases, can replace oil, paper, cotton industry. So these people “suggest” the US gov to keep hemp on schedule 1, so any studie on hemp is denied by US gov. You see, theres no such thing as an “ignorant drug czar or president” they are there to enforce status-quo so the very rich can still be very rich, think about it, the black guy wont legalize it, doesnt that ring any bells? But still, watch in awe how TSA grope you on the airport but i can smuggle a nuclear warhead through a tijuana drug tunnel. Americans are way too blind by their fake concept of democracy (2 parties, lol) that they wont even dare to actually research what i said, do yourselves a favor and go watch some Bill Hicks on youtube, learn to think.

  29. can a Christian shoot a political zombie in the brain

    Do Christians have guns?

    Do Citizens have guns?

    Merry Christmas

  30. As the owner of, i am here to say, that driving while baked is just as safe, or safer, than driving completely sober!!! You may disagree, but I think experience teaches better than anything else, and after YEARS of everyday blunt rides, I have never even had a close call…If anything you become more cautious and drive safer (slower).

  31. Well if 4 in 5 drivers did not have drugs in there system then by the logic of freaking out and not thinking anyone who tests sober with one of these tests should be thrown in jail asap ;).

  32. I LOVE HOW THEY SAY “DRUGS,” just shows they are trying to group weed with them. Not once did they mention weed as a cause. Scare tactics as usual.

  33. With the UN now discussing reducing the harms from drugs instead of arresting people for them by ending the US sponsored WOD( and the release today by MSNBC ( to back up their claims of failure,the costs of prohibition goes up.

    The report on the UN won’t mean anything until countries start giving notice of backing out on the world-wide drug treaties initiated by good old Harry Anslinger and fellow law enforcement arm,J Edgar,signed in 61.

    And any country can back out of that treaty with a 6 month notice. That gives time for the State Dept to convince the country/ies to get back on board the prohibition train.

    That translates into more aid in the costs of the WOD,which translates to more budget for the ONDCP. And that is what we need,to drive the cost of prohibition
    over the edge of bankrupting our country,before the industrialists and special interest groups start losing money because their customers don’t have any money.

    Every time a “special meeting” with Clinton occurs over drug trafficking,money laundering or corruption,the cash register spits out some more millions to “aid”
    their fight in the good fight.

    So ching-a-chinga-ching,mfer’s and just keep spending until they sink their own boat.

  34. This is really starting to get out of control. If you ask me cannabis users should be protected as a minority group, they have been unjustly discriminated against long enough. Most are normal functioning adults who lead excellent lives but are told they cannot do something they enjoy without any conclusive proof of harm, in fact many studys counter that. Simply do a google search for scientific cannabis studies, watch a film like The Union listen to a large portion of your neighbors and friends… ( they may be hitting rolling some sour diesel as I write, and they were the ones that brought you that welcome to the neighborhood gift basket with all the unusually good food)
    Even if there was sufficient proof, which i’ll reiterate, there isn’t, to determine cannabis was seriously detrimental to someones health, what is the logic behind allowing people to smoke cigarettes or someone boozing themselves to death?

    My mind tends to wander towards that old idea that we were free to make our own choices in life, I am all for sensible drug policy, where we inform people of the seriousness of a drug through actual scientific study and curriculum that could be developed if the time was put into it. What I am not at all happy about is the randomness and irrationality of *cannabis* being illegal. It is a modern day prohibition and states need to lead the way in legalizing. Voters have to show up.

    It is getting scarier, when the federal government straight up says no to something states have said yes to. The federal government has no business in the affairs of private citizens to the extent they are taking it by making marijuana illegal and prosecuting in states where its legal; it is an perversion of reasoning and the country let them get away with it.

    Not to forget that we do live in a great country, where voters can still make the difference. It is important to get the word out, and stay positive despite the bluster of the men in black.

    It is doubful that marijuana skeptics are going to -stumble- across NORML and pay it much attention, but hopefully if they read something like this they pass the word along. It really only takes a few days of research to understand that marijuana -is- the yellow journalistic story of the mid 1900’s and is instead an incredible, useful plant for, medicine, among thousands of other things.

    We just have to spread the word, the people will figure it out for themselves, to me it is worth investigating for yourself because I believe if you do, the evidence is nearly undeniable, especially now with the scientific community starting to speak out with the information they have, and bypass the political channels that unjustly made it illegal in the first place.


  35. there is NO PROBLEM with people DRIVING DRUNK ON POT.

    pot does not make you drunk or INTOXICATED,

  36. Not mentioned above: another obvious reason why a disproportionate number of drivers stopped and tested have evidence of cannabis use– it’s because a disproportionate amount of cannabis smoking occurs in the car where the individual is safer than almost anywhere else from being observed (reported, arrested etc.).

    cobb @35– with all respect I think your focus on rich people, bankers etc. needs to be centered on one industry– Big 2WackGo, which fears cannabis being tolerated or legalized because (a) it will help a large percent of nicotine slaves quit tobacco, and (b) it will help an even larger number, following the example of cannabis users, desert the high-profit hot burning overdose $igarette format forever and switch to vaporizer, cannabis e-cig (see “Vapor Rush”) and narrow, screened one-hitters (see Wikipedia: “One hitter (smoking)”– without even having to quit tobacco. When every “smoker” (any herb) knows how to “vaporize” 25-mg. servings in a one-hitter (instead of 700-mg. every time you light up), drug overdose abuse and impaired driving will be a distant memory.

  37. The new drugged driving report omits an important factor, namely the number of “marijuana drivers” who were also drunk at the time of the accident.

    The June 2010 report “Study Finds Passage of California Cannabis Initiative Will Increase Traffic Deaths Marijuana May Overtake Alcohol as a Major Contributing Factor in Fatal Crashes” by Alan Crancer states: “In addition, about half (48%) of the drivers using Marijuana also were legally intoxicated.”

    From the data table in the report: in 2008 of 3638 fatalities in California, alcohol alone over 0.08 was present in 652 drivers, MJ + alcohol over 0.08 was present in 200 drivers and MJ only was present in 110 drivers.

    Now I think this proves that MJ drivers are safer than sober drivers. About 10% of all California drivers will test positive for MJ. Non drunk MJ drivers had 3% of the fatal accidents, so they are 3x less likely to have a fatal accident than the general public.

  38. Something they will refuse to tell you and here’s my story ;

    Myself, if i get too stoned or medicated on marijuana i have enough sense not to drive but, with Alcohol & other drugs
    ( alcohol being the ultimate worse & most dangerous drug out of them all ) you make no sense and will
    drive .

    One afternoon i was driving recklessly and agressively, flipping off anyone that got in my way . I admit i was a danger to other drivers & i should of been taken off the Road due to my agressiveness & careless driving . I was 100% straight, just having a bad day . Anyways,i knew i had to do something before i killed myself or others so i pulled over & plucked a roach out of my ash tray and smoked a few hits of marijuana . I knew this would do ” the trick ” that i wanted . I was back on the Road in a minute but, now i was under the slight influence of marijuana and that’s all i needed because the marijuana turned me from being a dangerous & agressive driver to passive . Soon i found myself driving cautiously, courteously & i really did slow way down reducing my speed under the posted driving limit . I flipped off nobody and was abiding by all driving laws . That’s the God’s truth and those that never have used marijuana will reject my truth and call me a liar only because what they want to hear is lies and not facts . Marijuana on that day not only saved my life but others .

  39. Might I point out that if prop 19 had passed the political feasibility of a law like this would be completely up in the air. I’d like to personally thank all the stoners against legalization out there. Way to go guys. Way to stand up for medical marijuana patients everywhere.

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